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A Salisbury Gentleman

A.J. Oster '99
Kristina Miller

SALISBURY GENTLEMAN A.J. OSTER '99 SHARES HIS STORY WITH THE SALISBURY COMMUNITY 

Currently, I own and operate a small restaurant in North Adams, MA called A-OK Berkshire BBQ (aokbbq.com). September marked our second anniversary. It's amazing how time flies.  

This business, for us, was about creating a chance to reshape the business model in which I spent so much of my career. This applies, however, to every field—especially during strange and uncharted times like these. 

It wasn't until much, much later in life that Salisbury became a huge part of my life. I was there, I competed in sports, I felt accomplished, but achievement without a sense of self is worthless. So it was at Salisbury, under the guidance of my mentors and teachers Reeves, Curtis, Wolcott, Buehner, Hinchey, Brown, and Smith that the seeds of determination and hard work were planted. I learned that I could do more than I thought, if I just pushed myself harder. If I knew and believed that I could do it, I did it. I failed sometimes, but those failures provided me with so much wisdom that the next time I knew it could be done, because of the shortcomings the previous attempt illuminated. It's not cockiness or ego, it's belief. Faith.  

Somewhere between June of 1999 and 2015, life tamped down that faith in me. That belief in myself that knew things could be done. Don't get me wrong, I still worked hard, but I was constantly left with a feeling of emptiness. It wasn't until recently that I sat down and thought about what I am to myself.   

And then, as corny as it sounds, I remembered: Esse Quam Videri. And suddenly I felt all those friends and mentors from the Hilltop with their hands on my shoulders. Their voices cheering me on. Then, with meditation, I realized those voices were in my head and my heart.  

The feeling of believing in yourself is, in my opinion, the singular goal that all Sarum boys should strive to attain for themselves. Not money, not better grades. Each teacher's job is to find each student’s heart and teach them how to hold themselves with care, with honor, and with humility.   

The advice I would bestow to Salisbury students to prepare to pursue a career in their field of interest, in my case, the restaurant business, is that everyone should ask themselves why. i.e., why do you want to cook?    

For me, and the reason I chose the field I did, the answer is to serve others. My job is not necessarily about food. Food is a tool used to communicate a vision. It's not about what I cook. For me, it’s about the joy I get from making others feel happiness. Gathering people together to do something greater than they'd considered possible. 

Food service and hospitality is about human connection. That's it. I chose to use food because I wasn't great in other academic fields, and food transcends all academia. It's a basic human need. Everyone in our species shares this need, so I can connect with anyone on the planet. Any language, any continent—food is there.   

And so, ask yourselves: why. And then ask: how. How can I be myself and do the thing that gives me joy. You have to love what you do.  

Earning money is necessary to live in society, but anyone who tells you that your financial gain in the short term is worth the sacrifice of your happiness is full of [garbage]. Yes, money is important, but think about your attitude. If I told you that you could work as a garbage collector and be happy, how would you go about proving me right?   

Sacrifice is only painful if you forget the dreams you are working toward. Your perception of suffering belongs to you. So what are you willing to do, to accomplish your dreams? And on that path, do you get angry or upset about growing? Learning? Being better? Did Michael Jordan get angry at the process, when he worked extra hard? No, he knew that in order to accomplish his goals (be the best, change the game) he had to work harder, and push himself and his teammates harder than anyone else would. In any field, mine or someone else’s, it’s about suffering with your eyes open to see opportunities and the doors that have yet to be opened. 

Lastly, on a side note, my favorite Hilltop memory is of shaking Former Director of Admissions Chip Wollcot's hand on my first day, and racing swans during an early morning practice sophomore year with Current Faculty Dick Curtis ’91 (Hon.), P’06. 

Sebastian Port '22
Kristina Miller

SALISBURY GENTLEMAN SEBASTIAN PORT ’22 SHARES HIS STORY WITH THE SALISBURY COMMUNITY 

I have never stayed in one place for more than three years. I was born in Chicago, then moved to Houston, then back to Chicago, to Germany, England, and then Hong Kong. The question “Where are you from” has always been difficult to answer, especially because in addition to moving all over, my mother is Norwegian, and my dad is British. It’s been hard to find somewhere that I belong, but after finding out about Salisbury School from a friend at Camp Dudley I knew it would be the place for me. It's always been important to me to be with my boys and finding a school that had that was exciting.

I enjoy playing music, and before arriving to the Hilltop, I used to keep my music to myself. I genuinely never really thought it was good enough. But I brought my equipment nonetheless and kept making music. I played some songs for my roommate and he would encourage me to keep going. The boys here have taught me to be confident in what I do, and to keep pushing myself to create something new. Pre-COVID-19 times, I would have the boys pile in the room to watch me create, and that was the best encouragement anybody could ask for. Seeing my closest friends really enjoy, and be intrigued by the things I made, gave me the drive to keep going and keep improving.

I have always felt overwhelming support from my advisors the Brandons and my tutor Ms. Hussey. They have been my go-to people for any issue I’ve had on the Hilltop. Whether it’s an overload of work, or just simply wanting to talk, I can always count on my Salisbury support system. I love planning my work for Ms. Hussey because I know that she’ll praise my accomplishments but will kindly express what needs to be worked on. They support me in everything that I do, and I consider them to be family.

I have always had a passion for music and have played a myriad of instruments growing up. I realized that playing pieces of music wasn’t for me. I wanted to create. My dad has always been a huge inspiration to me because he’s been making his own albums since before I was born. Growing up I would go to my dad’s studio to sit and watch him make music. It fascinated me and was something that I wanted to do myself. Now we work on projects together and share inspiration and ideas with each other. It’s always great to get a second opinion, especially when it’s your dad.

I started working on composing music digitally when I first got my computer in 2015. I feel like my skills have grown exponentially in the past year, partly due to COVID-19, and I discovered that it is the perfect outlet for my energy and emotions. At this point, it takes me about 30 minutes to put a loop together, but it took years of practice and over 700 different songs to master that. I make music by ear and by heart. When I’m composing, I think about how I can make it sound full? What energy do I want to give off? Is this a song I can get lost in or bob my head to? I ask myself all these different things in a split second while I’m putting it together. By far my favorite thing is sampling, which is taking another song, chopping the melody up into different parts, changing the pitch, rearranging it, and adding more sounds and different effects to compliment the sample. I add different drum patterns then split all the sounds and arrange it into something I like.

Sebastian recently completed his first album—from composition to production to artwork! He took the photo for his album cover around 2015 when he used to sit in the back of his car on long road trips and experiment with his DSLR camera. The name of the album, “Good Enough,” was thought of by Sebastian's dad because Sebastian would always say it’s not good enough, when it really was.

Meg Allen
Kristina Miller

SALISBURY GENTLE(WO)MAN MEG ALLEN SHARES HER STORY WITH THE SALISBURY COMMUNITY 

If you’d asked me ten years ago if I thought I would one day be working at an all-boys boarding school in northwest Connecticut, I would have thought you were crazy. In the fall of 2010, I was fresh out of graduate school with a master’s degree in special education, starting my first year of teaching as a middle school inclusion teacher at a charter school in Washington, DC. I loved the school, I loved the city, and I saw myself settling into that work long-term. My then-girlfriend, now-wife had other plans, though, and her life and work at a neighboring boarding school campus ultimately drew me north to this beautiful area I am now proud to call home.

I remember thinking in my interview that the Rudd Learning Center for Academic Growth and Potential was the perfect environment for me to continue honing my craft. I love working one-on-one with students to help them get to know themselves better as learners. I love finding and practicing new strategies to help students find success after sometimes years of frustration. And I love creating an environment where it is OK – encouraged, even – to say, “I don’t know” or “I’m struggling” or “I need help” and then to take the risk of trying something new, stumbling, and trying again. I'm a big believer in growth mindset.

My evolution into the role of Director of Inclusion and Equity Education was also a bit unexpected. I did not fully begin to realize the extent of the unearned privileges I held or the incomplete histories and biases our society had infused into me until I was a young adult. My process of awakening and unlearning/relearning started in college and will likely continue for the rest of my life. Working to build a more inclusive and equitable campus, helping our community to become better stewards of equity and justice for all people – especially those that are marginalized – and doing so at a time of social and political division, is no easy task. But hard work, when done alongside people you care about, in a place you care about, makes it not just a job, but a calling.

As the weather allows, I try to remember to take the scenic route back to my office in Centennial from the dining hall after lunch. I exit the doors that open onto the Carl Williams Terrace and slow my pace. I take in the mountain view. I breathe deeply. This practice grounds me, settles me and recharges me for the next task. The tasks are good, the people are true, and the place, well, it’s home.

Ethan Cheung '21 and Bryan Ting '21
Kristina Miller

SALISBURY GENTLEMEN ETHAN CHEUNG '21 AND
BRYAN TING '21 SHARE THEIR STORIES WITH THE SALISBURY COMMUNITY
AS THEY STUDY REMOTELY FROM HONG KONG THIS TRIMESTER  

ETHAN CHEUNG '21

I grew up in Hong Kong and first heard of Salisbury from both friends and from my educational consultant. When hearing the phrase “all-boys school”, I immediately thought of a military-type of school where the teachers have strict rules for their students. I didn't have the best picture in mind of what Salisbury could be, but when I saw it for the first time, it was completely different than what I expected. When I first visited Salisbury, the environment was wonderful and the people there, both the students and teachers, were very welcoming. I was shown many of the great aspects of the school and, once I finished my school visit, I knew it's where I wanted to be for the next three years.

The most important thing I’ve learned during my time at Salisbury is the meaning of community and what it’s like to be in one. The first time I found the meaning of community was when I watched my first hockey game at Salisbury; the support and energy from the students showed me what the Salisbury community is like, and this gave me confidence to engage with the community more. Not only that, my experience with Jazz Band also showed me what the community is like, especially when I had to practice playing my first solo. The encouragement and support from both my teacher and teammates gave me the confidence in my skills to play the saxophone, and, ultimately, I was able to play solos. After my experiences with the Salisbury community, I got the confidence to start giving back to the community, both at home and school. After my first year at Salisbury, I decided to join the Orientation team and also volunteered with some community service opportunities back at home.

One teacher that helped me along my way is my advisor Mrs. Pecchia. She’s one of the first people I met when I first came to Salisbury and when I first met her, I could already tell that she was going to be a great advisor for me. During my time with her, she has shown me a lot of support and is always available to lend a helping hand whenever I have any questions. Not only is she my advisor, but also my college advisor. She’s always there for me when I need help and advice in my college applications and it helped me a lot during the college process. I would like to thank her for helping me so much during my time at Salisbury.

My favorite place on campus is Belin Lodge. I usually go there whenever I have free time after Study Hall or when I have nothing else to do during a Saturday night. I really like Belin because it’s a place where I can hang out with my friends and also get snacks there. It’s a great place for the camaraderie of Salisbury.

My favorite class is different every year, but this year, my favorite class would probably be Mr. Curtis’ Father and Sons Literature. I enjoy listening to Mr. Curtis share his stories about his life and also what it’s like to be a father. Everyday, we have to write journal entries about our thoughts and I find that is a pretty interesting way of doing homework for class; I’ve learned a lot through this process. Currently, we are reading a book called “About a Boy” and I’m looking forward to diving into it.

My favorite sports are probably basketball and tennis. I got interested in playing these sports at a young age and usually play them in my free time back at home. At school, I usually play basketball in the Flood Athletic Center or Toll House with my friends on the weekends.

For my extracurricular activity, I really enjoy being in the Jazz Band. My music teacher asked me if I would like to join the band and play the saxophone for them, which I said yes to. I’m happy that I made the right choice to join the band as I was able to have fun playing songs with my teammates. I’ve learned a lot during my time in the band, especially when I had to start playing solos. Playing a solo was hard to do because I had to improvise everything, but thanks to the support from both Mr. McEachern and my teammates, I was able to learn how to play one.

A Salisbury Gentlemen should have a lot of good features, but the most important ones are loyalty, honor and service. I feel like a Salisbury Gentlemen is someone who is always there to help his Brothers whenever they are in need of support. Not only just helping his Brothers out, but he’s also there to help those who are in need, whether it’s your teacher or your neighbor.  I have experienced this every day that I have been at Salisbury. From the community services I have done both at school and at home, I think my actions to help the community help me to define myself as a Salisbury Gentlemen.

BRYAN TING '21 

I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I attended a local school until 7th grade and an international school from 8th to 10th grade.

The idea of studying abroad stemmed from a summer program I attended at another boarding school. I loved the boarding experience, and I wanted to develop independence. I was introduced to a couple of boarding schools in New England. From the school list, Salisbury stood out to me the most because it’s an all-boys school, and I thought it’d be interesting to change things up.

During my Salisbury tour, I was immediately attracted to the scenery and the sense of Brotherhood around campus. I, as a photographer, was drawn to the Buehner Media Lab. I was also fascinated by the enormous Flood Athletic Center. The classroom climate was completely different from what I was familiar with. The level of engagement in the classroom was high, thanks to the low student-teacher ratio. I knew I wanted to be here.

I was utterly overwhelmed by the transition to Salisbury. It was my first time truly being away from my family. Salisbury helped me embrace my academics and extracurricular activities, and I turned things around after my second trimester. Fast forward to senior year. I’m an honor roll student and a prefect in South Dorm. Without Salisbury, I would have never thought of achieving such things.

At Salisbury, I learned to appreciate the opportunity to study abroad. This motivated me to do everything with my best effort. I realized that I’m very fortunate to attend boarding school because I am one of only several who can do so. That’s why I‘ve been committed to helping underprivileged children with their education through NPOs — Kids4Kids and Shanghai Sunrise. I volunteered at the “Code and Create” program at Kids4Kids, where students use Scratch to express their creativity. For Shanghai Sunrise, I created a proposal for a fundraising event to support underprivileged youth in Shanghai by providing them access to education with scholarships. I also spent two months volunteering for a local NPO: Giving Love. I had the idea to donate books to a school that the organization had been supporting. I collected around 300 used books within a week. I sorted out the books and sent them out to the school. Knowing that not everyone has the same learning opportunities, I was driven to devote as much time as I can to help underprivileged children with their education.

My tutor, Ms. Lancto, has helped me tremendously along the way. She has helped me with anything related to humanities. Although we are scheduled to meet once a week, I reach out to her whenever I need help. Most importantly, Ms. Lancto picked me back up when I was at my lowest. I was struggling academically and she taught me how to utilize some of the best tools required to excel in school and life. She always emphasizes the significance of time management and organization. She has helped ensure that I stay on top of all my assignments and am not falling behind. Through her guidance, I've achieved a lot at Salisbury. She made me realize that I have the potential to achieve much more. I always look forward to every meeting.

My favorite place on campus is the Buehner Media Lab. I've taken digital photography and graphic design classes there. The media lab allows me to bring out the artistic side of me. I've spent many hours on the workstations transferring and editing my photos, as well as creating unique designs. Moreover, I'm always fascinated by the cool equipment and technology all around the media lab.

My favorite class at Salisbury is Intro to Digital Photography. I'm passionate about photography, and this class allowed me to expand on it. I was able to capture unique angles of everything around campus. I enjoy Mr. J's energy around the media lab. I admire his enthusiasm for everything he does. Whenever I needed a critique on my work or advice on which lens to buy next, I would reach out to him. My favorite sport is varsity skiing. Although this sport is very time-intensive, I had tons of fun during practice and races. I love the adrenaline rush that goes through my body during and after every run of the race course. I also improved significantly as a racer. During my second season, my race times were cut down by a lot and much more consistent. I am where I am today because the teachers and coaches at Salisbury pushed me to be better.

A Salisbury Gentleman is someone who will stand up for his Brothers at all times. A Salisbury Gentleman is committed to everything he does. He is loyal and honest. A Salisbury Gentleman is also devoted to helping the community.

I was encouraged to give back to both Salisbury and the broader community. I’m part of the blood drive team, orientation team, and I’m a new international student orientation leader. At the beginning of the school year, I brought the Salisbury community in Hong Kong together. I invited current students and recent graduates to a meeting with new students in hopes of making their transition as smooth as possible.

Bradley Werntz '06
Kristina Miller

SALISBURY GENTLEMAN BRADLEY WERNTZ '06 SHARES HIS STORY WITH THE SALISBURY COMMUNITY 

I was born in Morristown, New Jersey. When I was just a year old my father became the Assistant Headmaster at Indian Mountain School, where he ran the adventure education program, taught English, and coached hockey for about 10 years before starting Indian Mountain Adventure, an adventure education company with a focus on team building.

Living in Falls Village, Connecticut, I played on Salisbury Youth Hockey, so I knew the Salisbury campus, especially the rink, very well before ever considering where to go to secondary school. At Indian Mountain, football was my primary athletic passion and math and science were my primary academic interests. I was very impressed by the seriousness of Salisbury in both of these areas. Even as a 14 year old, I could tell that Salisbury would allow me to maximize my potential. That turned out to be true, but in an unexpected way.

I started rowing after my friends Andrew O’Donnell ’05, Colin Keogh ’04, and Gordon Getsinger ’04 encouraged me to pull a 500 meter piece on the erg during the winter of my 4th form year. I found that I could produce very competitive scores, drawing on my cardiovascular experience mountain bike racing. Seeing some potential, Coach Curtis let me join the crew team on the spring training trip as a complete novice. I got my first strokes on the water on that trip and was completely hooked. The summer after my 5th form year, I made the Junior National Team for rowing, and competed in the 4+ in Brendenburg, Germany, getting 4th overall. Having done well academically as well, I was accepted to Princeton University early-decision in the fall of my senior year.

This actually motivated me to double down, since I knew the competition academically and in rowing would be higher than ever at Princeton. I did very well the rest of my senior year and earned the Headmaster's Medal and set all of the ergometer records tracked by Coach Curtis.           

As a dyslexic person, I was able to be a few years ahead in math and science and get extra support in English and language as well as extended time for testing. Even more importantly, the faculty always treated me as an equal, making me feel like I was a good student and also not letting me use my learning difference as an excuse. I had always worked hard, but had felt that my hard work merely allowed me to get to the level of my peers. Through this supportive and challenging environment at Salisbury, I learned I could excel academically. This has been fundamental for me in my life, to not shy away from challenges or sell myself short due to a perceived weakness.

Former Faculty Drew Kesler (who I realize I should really reach out to) was both my novice rowing coach, as the coach of the second boat, as well as my physics teacher. His way of seeing the world through physics resonated with me so completely that it was as if I had been seeing the world through a veil my entire life and it had just been lifted. Both on the water and in the classroom, Mr. Kesler motivated me in a very tactful way. Unlike coaches I had in football and hockey, he would not get upset, but, rather, he would ask us questions, challenging us to look inward and decide if we were doing our best or if we thought we could go fast or find a more elegant solution to the problem. This is a much more powerful form of motivation, because the student-athlete can take it with them and motivate themself with the learned approach on their own in life and in the future.

I was back on campus about a year ago, in fall 2019. My wife and I walked from my mom’s house in Falls Village to Rand’s View and then down past the Lost Field and onto campus to have dinner in the dining hall. I feel lucky to be back regularly since my mother is close. This is a bit of a lay-up for me, but I have to say the Boathouse and the lake is my favorite spot on campus. I have rowed in many beautiful places in my career, including on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy and have to say that the lake a Salisbury is still my favorite, and the Curtis Boathouse is absolutely the structure that this pristine body of water deserves. I wish I got to launch out of it and row there more often, but I do make an effort to at least jog down to the dock every few months.

I work as a Principal Data Analyst, specializing in Business Analytics at TrueMotion. At TrueMotion we make driving safer and more affordable. I work on Openroad, an iPhone app that detects if a driver has been in a car crash and gets them help even if they can’t pick up the phone. Outside of my “day job” I co-founded Princeton CarbonWorks. We make aerodynamic carbon fiber bicycles. Our wheels were recently ridden to victory at the World Championships in the Individual Time Trial by Filippo Ganna of Italy. Our wheels are faster than the competition due to our unique sinoidal rim width which both increases strength to weight ratio and lowers drag. I previously co-founded Skedaddle, a transportation technology startup where I was the Chief Strategy Officer until 2018 when Skedaddle was sold to LAZ Parking. Our app allowed people to create and join “crowd-sourced” bus trips to events and destinations. Skedaddle is best known for having brought 11,000 peaceful protesters to the Women’s March on Washington in January of 2017.

I can definitely trace my entrepreneurial aspirations back to Salisbury. I clearly recall Former Faculty Mr. Tote Smith coordinating a panel of business owners to come speak at Salisbury. Growing up, I had worked for my father who ran his own business, but this panel was the first time I had made the mental connection between the style of business he ran and large corporations. I realized that these are actually only different in scale, not in kind. After being exposed to these men who led much larger businesses, I would often encourage my dad to scale his business and did not understand why he was reluctant to this idea. Only now, having run a business of my own, do I appreciate that as a business grows, you often can no longer do the hands on work that you enjoy the most. Although my father is no longer alive, I can now appreciate that he was making an intentional decision to be a craftsman.

Another particularly noteworthy moment in my time at Salisbury was when Faculty Ms. Rita Delgado brought Tibetan Monks to campus to make a Sand Mandala in the Chapel. Although I did not fully appreciate the impression this had on me until years later, I still recall being fascinated by their chanting and just their way of being. Six years after graduating Salisbury, I encountered Tibetan Buddhism through a colleague and have maintained a mediation practice rooted in this tradition for more than six years. 

As I discussed with a fine group of Salisbury students in Faculty Mr. Josh Weinstein's '09 class via Zoom a few months back, set broad objectives in life, and break down the path to these objectives into a series of small experiments. The critical part is to run these experiments in a way where one learns something. A failure is only a failure if no new information is gained. For example, if a student entering the 5th form would like to become a published author within a year and he spends the entire year working on a single manuscript, then perhaps he will get published, but he also may not and he will have learned very little. If he instead spends two weeks writing a short story and then self-publishes it online and sees what feedback he gets in the comments, then he can quickly learn something and his experiment will be successful even if his short story gets negative reviews. Through iteration he will improve, have a much better chance of reaching his goal, and he will absolutely learn more along the way. In business this approach is called the “build, measure, learn” feedback loop, but it is also very useful in life.